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Antisthenes of Athens, Vatican

Antisthenes (c. 444-365 BC), the founder of the Cynic school of philosophy, was born at Athens of a Thracian mother, a fact which may account for the extreme boldness of his attack on conventional thought.

In his youth he studied rhetoric under Gorgias, perhaps also under Hippias and Prodicus. Some suggest that he was originally in good circumstances, but was reduced to poverty. However this may be, he came under the influence of Socrates, and became a devoted pupil.

So eager was he to hear the words of Socrates that he used to walk daily from Peiraeus to Athens, and persuaded his friends accompany him. Filled with enthusiasm for the Socratic idea virtue, he founded a school of his own in the Cynosarges. Thither he attracted the poorer masses by the simplicity of his life and teaching. He was affected to disdain the pride and pomp of the world. He wore a cloak and carried a staff and a wallet as the badge of philosophy, and this costume became uniform of his followers, but so ostentatiously as to draw from Socrates the rebuke, "I see your pride looking out through the rent of your cloak, O Antisthenes."

Diogenes Laertius says that his works filled ten volumes, but of these, only fragments remain. His favourite style seems to have been the dialogue, wherein we see the effect of his early rhetorical training. Aristotle speaks of him as uneducated and simple-minded, and Plato describes him as struggling in vain with the difficulties of dialectic; these assessments are probably at least somewhat coloured by the competition between the philosophical schools. His work represents one great aspect of Socratic philosophy, and should be compared with the Cyrenaic and Igarian doctrines.

Marcus Aurelius quotes him in his Meditations (late 2nd century): "It is royal to do good and be abused."

Antisthenes, Hartmann Schedel , Die Schedelsche Weltchronik , 1493

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